“I go miss dat place man,” Papa Joe whispered, placing the last coco pod in the barrow.
“Yeah Papa Joe. I eh know what we go do without we top man.”
He shrugged and chuckled.
“Well, I eh know ‘bout dat Larry. You eh half as bad as dat Mama’s boy de boss hire las month.”
I joined the chuckling.
“No need to downplay Papa. You is de bes foreman, de man who make tings run here,” I tapped his back lightly.
I grabbed the barrow’s handle and moved towards the beds for the last time with Papa Joe. I moved, careful to keep the pace with the limping man before me. He looked tired, youth stolen by wrinkles. I kept my eyes fixed on the pods in the barrow. It was hard for me to see him like this.
Seven minutes later, I packed the barrow near the first large wooden bed on the large plain. I grabbed my cutlass, eager to break the pods. Papa Joe grabbed the cutlass on the grass.
“Nah man,” I said, rushing to take the cutlass from him. “Today is your last day with us. Rest it out Papa. No worries. You not retiring tired today. I go do it.”
“Well Larry, you was always de bes worker I supervise here on de farm but I tink I can still spread de seeds on de tray,” he answered, eyes fixed on the pod in my hand.
“Rest it easy Papa. Everyting cool,” I replied, leading him to the huge stone next to the beds. He sat.
“Raise de Hennessey! To Papa – de biggest, baddest foreman dis farm ever see. When my father pass de farm to me, I never tink it woulda make it pass two weeks but Papa hold me all de way. Happy retirement Papa!” Josely, the new owner of Cocoa Savannah Enterprises raised his glass.
“To Papa!” a chorus erupted as more glasses were raised.
That was the day Papa officially retired from the enterprise with two thousand dollars, one bag of dasheen and a lifetime supply of free cocoa as severance.
“Well Larry, I tell you when de journey done, it done,” he broke the silence as we travelled to his two-room plywood house, thirty minutes on foot from Savannah.
“A good journey Papa. You teach we well,” I responded sadly. “So what you go do now that you have all de free time on your hands?”
“Free time? How you know me time go be free boy?” We laughed.
“Jus take it easy Papa,” I said as we approached the dark house. It was 8pm.
The house never feel so cold. I sit by de table watching de light from de candle. My favourite radio show not on tonight. They say DeeJay Ravey have a bad, bad flu. I count de watermelon seeds again. To me, is a dozen I find last time. Is like two missing. I count them again. I find twelve.
“Well Joe…dat’s de shate you find yourself in at 70,” I muttered.
Is years Sancha leave me. She say she tired of being alone in de house. I really don’t know how she expect me to feed she sitting down all day in de house. One day, I come from work and all I find is de table because after de last earthquake, me nail it to de floor. Settee, fridge, stove, bed …gone. I never hear from she after dat. Since dat day is me in de house.
I look at de clock. Is 2 hours since Larry drop me, two hours since I sitting by dat table.
“Well, is so de life is,” I whispered. I open de cooler I keep in the corner by de table and grab de bottle of whisky Josely give me last year. I eh never buy back no fridge. I keep all de drinks cold from ice I get from de farm. No woman robbing me again. Is not like I have plenty people visiting. Is only Lena who use to come every two weeks for sexing. She aint coming anymore since me pay cut. I pour a glass of whisky. It was 11:30 when I close my eyes.
The cocks were still crowing when I started raking the cocoa beans on the bed. I was alone this morning. Nothing about village news this morning from Papa Joe and no Bwadenn tea.
The heat was already beating down on the new parsley plants Papa Joe planted in the plantation garden. His gift to us.
“Morning Larry. De place lookin empty this morning. No Papa Joe,” JnMark strolled in, watering can in hand.
“Morning. I look for dat this morning. De sun starting to beat down on de plants.” I continued raking the beans.
“I figure dat. Pa Joe leave it by me las week. I go water de plants while you rake,” JnMark continued.
“Nah man, jus leave de can dere and I go water them. I hear your crew going to de boss new plantation to get cocoa today. When you’all leaving?” I inquired, taking the watering can from him. I filled it from the nearby standpipe.
“Jus now. Let me go before they leave me down.”
“You better. These days de boss not playing. Take care they don’t leave your arse down jus like Pete las week.” Our laughter echoed in the quiet. JnMark ran towards the parking lot.
“Rise up this mornin’ …smile with the risin’ sun,” I hummed the tune of Pa Joe’s favourite Bob Marley song. We would sing it duet style every morning while we rake the cocoa beans.
After watering the plants, I gathered the tools and a few cocoa seedlings. Papa Joe always said that full moon was the best time to plant. I pushed the barrow towards the cocoa field. There were plants that required pruning and planting was needed on the bare parts of the field. I packed the barrow near the field’s entrance and grabbed my cutlass. I walked the field searching for a sunlit mahogany canopy. For the next hour, I dug the ground and placed the plants in their new home. By lunch time, I was ready to return to the cocoa storehouse.
I pushed the barrow quickly to the storehouse. I was hungry, eager to taste the dumplings and saltfish my wife had prepared. Within seven minutes, the barrow was parked outside the storehouse.
I turned in the direction of the voice. It was Papa Joe.
“Papa…is not yesterday you retire? What you doing here today?”
“Well, you know aready. I jus in de house. No Madam. No chile. No dog. What to do?”
“Aa …all my mind you done make your way outta dere lang time. Why you eh go check you famalay down south?” I questioned, opening the flask.
“Is a lang, lang, lang time since I see dem people. Is if they remember me?” he nodded. “Anyway, I come to ask de boss if I can use de lan outside de fence to plant,” he revealed casually.
I stared at him.
“You know a man have to keep busy Larry.” He tapped my back and headed to the main office.
It was 5:30 when I get home. Josely was not too happy wit me asking to use de lan. I jus eh get it. Is not like he using it. Plenty weeds on de lan not now and he eh even want nobody to use it to do someting. I don’t undastand dem youts nowadays. Anyway, after plenty sweet talking, he decide to let me use de lan if I bring him cucumber and plantain every month. All dat after I help de father build Savannah from de ground up.
I move my boots and send it in de corner. I open de cooler and pull de bottle of whisky.
“Shate man! I shoulda take some ice by de boss.” I poured some whisky and drank.
De next day, I was on de land by 5:30, just after de cock crow. And I eh come alone. I bring Karlos boy, Jonas with me. He small but I hear he not a lazy fella.
“So what you want me to do today Mr. Joe?”
“What’s dat Mr. Joe nonsense boy? Call me boss or Papa Joe. Today we weeding dat lan. Jus start over dere. Shate, I forget to take de hoe. I go borrow one from de farm. Jus start without me. I coming back in no time.”
I was surprise when I get to de farm. I eh see no nobody raking de cocoa seeds. And nuff sun beating up de parsley. I take de watering can I see on de grass to collect de water from de standpipe.
“I cyaan believe dem fellas. I only gone for a few days now. Thank God, I come here at dat time. Is like you’all woulda die here. Is what kind of operation they starting to run here now? Is jus two days since I gone. Is jus two days since I gone.” I spoke aloud, hoping to speak life into the parsley plants.
I finish watering and sit on de grass waiting for Larry. I wait and I wait. I eh see nobody coming and de place really quiet. I decide to walk around. Nobody around so I decide to go to de main office. And me cyaan believe me ears. Plenty laughter like is Friday night bar-be-que on a Monday morning. I knock on de door. No answer. I turn de door handle. De laughing stop.
“Hey! Just the man we were talking about. Papa Joe!” Josely announced.
All de workers jus sitting by a table.
“Dere aint never have anything like dat when I was around,” I thought.
“Come, come meet your replacement,” his hands motioning me to move towards him.
“Well…I doe really have time now. I jus come to borrow a hoe,” I shrugged, turning to make my exit.
“Nonsense Papa. You can give us a few minutes to meet your replacement, share a few words of wisdom.” Josely pushed the door and led me to the front of the table. This was my first time in this room.
“Papa Joe, meet Jonsen Rellie. He is from Fond Blanc and he is a former foreman from the Louvet Sugar Estate,” Josely announced, pointing to a gentleman dressed in a suit.
“Is what he dress like dis for? Dere have a wedding here today?” I whispered to Josely.
“No, it’s his first day.” Josely chuckled.
“Aa…well ah doe remember me first day being like dat. Is work right away.”
I shook my head. De three-piece-suit-wearing foreman walk up to me with a smile on his face.
“Ah…Mr. Joe, I am pleased to meet your acquaintance. I have heard so much about you. I hope that I will be able to live up to your performance,” he extended his hand to me. I shook it. It was soft.
“Bwoy, how come you hand soft so? Is like you never hold a cutlass before?”
“Most of my work has been in greenhouses and aeroponics,” he explained.
“Aero what?” I shrugged.
“Nevermind…I’m happy to have met you Mr. Joe. Time for me to get to work.” He walked away, shaking the hands of the workers standing by their chairs. I rushed over to Larry.
He turned towards the door. I jogged to meet him.
“Larry,” I tapped his shoulder. He turned.
“Pa Joe. What you doing here? You suppose to be at your home, your feet on de table with a glass of Hennessey jus de way you like it with two piece of ice,” Larry gently hit my back.
“Larry bwoy…Hennessey not paying de current bill. Josely letting me use de lan in front of de farm to make garden. I come and borrow de hoe.”
“Wha you mean Papa? You mean to tell me dat you retire to go to work?” Larry shook his head. “Follow me. De hoe by de shed over dere.”
When I get back to de garden, I look for Jonas everywhere. Strange thing is, I cyaan find de boy. I look and I look. Then I find him resting on a coconut tree, mouth open and snoring like big man when he come from carrying charcoal all day.
“AA …is for dat I paying you?” I kicked his boot.
“What! Oh bossman! Is you dat dere?” He stood up quickly. “I wait and I wait. When I doe see you, I decide to rest.”
“Best be sure, you eh getting money to sleep. Get up boy! Let us clean de place before de sun really get hot here.” I grabbed the hoe and started working.
It was 5 o’clock when I get home. I move my boots and go straight to de cooler. I look at de bottle. De last shot.
I sit dere drinking de last bit. I remember when Sancha and me use to sit dere for a lang time drinking and playing dominos. Dat was de good ole days. Boy, I use to love dat woman bad, bad, bad. And jus so she do dat bad ting to me. I jus doe undastand. Always talking ‘bout me spending nuff time working and is dat same money dat use to pay for she fancy, fancy hairstyle. Me? I finished with dat woman ting.
I drink de last shot and go to de corner to change me clothes. I grab de towel to go outside to bathe.
I was out early this morning. Mr. Jonsen Rellie was coming today to talk about the new way of drying cocoa beans. He said two big machines would be coming next week. I wondered what the workers would say about the plans he has for the farm. I finished watering the last bed. I grabbed the rake and walked to the cocoa beds.
“Good morning Mr. Juliano.”
“Oh! Mr. Rellie, you eh have to call me like dat. We all know one another here.” I dropped the rake and walked to him.
“Appreciate that Mr. Juliano but this is a workplace. We are all professionals here. Walk with me. Let’s talk.” He moved. I followed.
“You see Mr. Juliano, I have reviewed the farm’s accounting records and I realize that a great deal of time is being wasted here. Think about it. Why spend up to seven days drying cocoa beans in the sun when you can dry them in a few hours? Imagine all the time we can save. Imagine all the cocoa we can make. More money for the farm,” he tapped my back lightly.
“So what you saying is dat we wasting time we can use to make money?”
“Yes…you get me. You definitely get me.”
“And who go teach we how to use this machine? ‘Cause I telling you straight Bossman, I ain’t no machine operator,” I announced.
He chuckled. I turned to him.
“What dat funny so?”
He tapped my back gently.
“Nothing to worry about. I have scheduled a training session this week,” he explained.
“Yes, be prepared on Friday. We have a one-hour session on the use of the Samoan Drier.”
He walked away before I could respond.
“What de hell is a Samoan Drier? And why de hell we cyaan dry de beans in de sun? Is not like we paying for de heat?” I mumbled, walking towards the storage shed.
Is a lang time since I get up so late. If was not dat noise I hear on de door, nothing eh getting me out of dat bed. I roll out of de bed using de sheet as a wrap around.
“Is who de hell dat here so early in de morning?”
“Is me Bossman. I come early. You tell me to come by seven,” a voice answered behind the door.
“Eh? Who is de me dat calling me Bossman so early?”
“Is me …Jonas.”
“Oh! Jonas, so why you eh say since de time is you dat dere boy? Wait for me on de bench under de Pwa Dou Tree. I coming out jus now.”
I throw de sheet on de bed before grabbing de pants and shirt I wear yesterday. Is jus garden I going. I eh have no woman to see me. No time for tea today. De sun already shining well outside dere. I grab de boots and push a stone behind de door. Is a lang time I have nothing to steal in this place.
“Jonas boy, let us go. Today, we mus make de beds. I doe want hot sun to take us dere today.”
“Yes Bossman! I ready.”
Five minutes after we get to de garden, I see Jonas hanging his shirt on de guava tree branch. De sun was out in full force today. I myself cyaan take it. I drop de abousak under de guava tree.
“So where we starting today boss?”
“Jonas, I tell you, is plough we ploughing today. I want to plant de potatoes as soon as we finish. No time to waste.”
“And with what we ploughing?” He looked at me in a strange way.
“With de fork boy. What else?”
“But you only bring one,” Jonas opened his arms, his eyes questioning me.
“Dat is not for you to worry about. I go get one from de farm. Jus start de work without me. I will be back in no time.”
It’s a long time since I worked so hard in the morning. The new boss has me cleaning out the storage shed. He is going to place the machine there. I don’t think anyone has cleaned the floor since they built this shed. Left to me, there would be no scrubbing. Only sweeping. But the boss said he has some big, big boss coming today so he wants the place looking clean. I pushed the brush on the floor one last time.
“Aa…I not dere for a few days and you now de janitor.”
I turned around.
“Papa Joe, what you doing here? You ain’t have nothing to do in de house?”
“I jus come and borrow a fork. I outside, remember?” He grabbed the bucket of water.
“I hear you say you jus come and borrow a fork. Garçon, put my bucket down,” I ordered with a chuckle.
“Is no trouble. Jus let me help you. Is not like I have somewhere to go in a hurry?” He responded, grabbing another bucket of water. “And what you doing dat for? Is jus dirty bags they does put in dere.”
“Well, if you must know, de man that take your place bringing in some new machine to dry de cocoa,” I answered, brushing the last bit of water away.
“Machine to dry cocoa? What shate I hearing dere? What wrong with de sun? So all of a sudden de sun not hot enough? Aa…I cyaan believe what I hearing dere?” Papa Joe began pacing in the shed.
“Well, he say when you use it you eh need 7 to 8 days. You can get it right away.” I placed the brush on the wall outside.
“You see dat for yourself Larry? Dat is what he say. You know dem young man dat come fresh from big school always tink they big shot when they come in a place,” Papa Joe shook his head.
“Well, we all go see when de machines reach this afternoon,” I responded.
“This afternoon? What happening this afternoon?”
“Well, they go be showing us how to use de machine. De boss want us to start using dem from next week,” I explained as I closed the door of the shed. “I go clean up before de people dat training reach.”
“Well, I jus outside de farm if you need anyting. I going back and meet de boy in de garden.”
It was 3pm when the trainers arrived on the farm, all proxy, proxy. They came to a farm dressed like they were attending a holy communion today. Me? All I know is pants, shirt, abusak and boots.
By quarter pass three, all you could hear in the shed was the sound of that machine. After what I saw with my own eyes, I realized that the machine was no joke. In no time, the cocoa was dry. All you had to do was squeeze a button.
“Do you all understand how it works?” A man with a blue tie squeezed the button.
“Yeah man,” I replied.
“Okay then, there you have it. That is all there is to it.” Mr. Jonsen Rellie stepped in front of the machine. “We want to thank Machines Incorporated for the sponsorship and training today. We look forward to making the most of this machine. This is the right decision for the farm. We are ready to move into the future.”
Loud applause erupted in the shed.
“So what do you think about the machine and the new way forward?” Mr. Rellie walked in behind me.
“It alright. Not like what I believe but it easy enough,” I responded, after grabbing a cold Heineken Beer from the table.
“So you think you ready to move in here to operate the machine full-time?”
I placed the Heineken bottle on the rotting wooden counter.
“What you mean when you say operate de machine full-time?” I looked at him curiously.
“I mean you will be responsible for drying all the cocoa beans that come in from the plantation. You will dry them and turn them over to the packaging crew,” he explained, sipping some wine.
“Oh yes! Forgot to mention that I will be moving some of you to packaging. I think you have what it takes to run this machine and to do so efficiently.”
I stared blankly for a moment.
“Well…I eh know what to say Boss. I was not expecting you to say dat,” I took another sip of the Heineken Beer.
“Just say you’ll accept the offer. Think of it as a promotion. From the field into a room. With time, we can expand of course.”
“I jus doe know Boss with all dat…”
He tapped my shoulder lightly.
“I know you’re worried about your plants but no worries. You can still take care of them.” He chuckled.
“Okay then. I accept.”
It was 6 o’clock when I get to de house. All my clothes wet, wet, wet, like people dat in de laundry all day. I make sure all de lan prepare before we leave de garden. I ain’t wastin no time. I aready tell Jonas dat we starting to plant de potato from tomorrow. And after dat, I not sure I goin to keep him in de garden. Tings tight dem days and I eh know no person dat retire dat can hire people to work full-time for dem. Not me dat doing dat.
I pack de tools under de house before walking to de door. Is like my head carrying my legs. I cyaan believe how I tired so. Not even on de days when I use to work on de farm I tired so. Nothing in de cooler and I forget to take ice from de farm. Ice or no ice is juice tonight with dry bread. Breadfruit taking too much time to cook. Ain’t nothing like brown dried bread with lime juice in de night when you hungry.
De next day, I eh let Jonas wake me up. I was aready waiting for de boy lang before he get dere.
“Is you dat early this morning Boss?”
“So what you think? Every day you go wake me up Jonas? Christmas come once a year bwoy.” He chuckled.
We gather de sacks and head straight for de garden. Pappyshow time finish.
When I get to de garden, I realize I forget de hoe again.
“Start without me Jonas. You aready know what to do. I comin back jus now. I jus getting de hoe from de farm.”
It was real early when the first set of cocoa arrived. Part of my shirt was soaked in sweat. I hoped that nothing would go wrong today. I watered the parsley before going to the drying house. That was what the boss called it. The drying house.
I put the apron because the boss said that we are professional people. As I turned around I saw Errol, the new man they hired yesterday, with a barrow full of cocoa.
“I reach bossman!”
And so I became a Bossman for the first time. I looked at the man who was looking at me.
“Start putting de cocoa in de machine. I sitting over dere.”
I folded my legs while breaking some peanuts I got from Ms. Belle’s shop last night. Every night she had them fresh.
Right after the man put the cocoa in, I started the machine. Boy, I couldn’t believe how life was when you were a Bossman. For the whole day, the cocoa came and I just pushed a button. Just when I was getting ready to take the last batch, I heard the knock. I turned.
“So I eh even leave here for lang and you aready big Bossman.”
“Papa Joe. How it stay dere?”
“Well…I see you aready forget everyting I teach you.”
“What you mean? I does still water de plants outside every morning,” I responded, pushing de button on de machine.
“You see what I talking about? De cutlass outside and you inside. What kind of crap dat going on since I leave here?” He paced in the shed, shaking his head.
“What is de big deal Papa Joe? They just trying to make de farm better.”
I removed the flask from my abousak.
“So even new flask you have too? Is so you’all does sell out?” He shouted at me.
I stood, placing the flask on the bench.
“Now Pa Joe. Chill it! We does quarrel now? Chill it!” I reached out to touch his shoulder. He moved away.
“Is so you’all does sell out. Is so you’all does sell out,” he continued shouting.
“Okay Pa Joe. Da is enough. You have to Ieave now before de boss tink is something that happening,” I shouted.
“A place I build up …I have to go. I eh going nowhere. Is you that have to go I tink.” He sat on the stool next to the door.
“Pa Joe, I tell you to go. I eh need de boss coming here to see you. I go find myself in trouble.”
“What dat have to do wit me?”
I walked up to him.
“Pa Joe, you have to go.” I grabbed his hand in an effort to lift him. He struggled. I held on to him, the stool shaking.
“Larry, eh touch me boy. You forget who I is.”
He pushed me. I pushed back. A racket echoed in the drying house. I looked and everything was on the ground; cup, pan, stool, spoon and Papa Joe. I rushed to him.
“Pa Joe, you okay?”
I shook him.
“Pa Joe…say something.”
I shook him again.
“Pa Joe…you eh moving? You eh say nothing?”
The tears fell. Big men don’t cry so I wiped them quickly.
I started cleaning the floor. I picked up Papa Joe’s cup. There was no scratch on it.